Tuesday, July 31, 2012

St Ignatius of Loyola

St Ignatius writing his "Spiritual Exercises"

The Jesuits had quite an important role in my education and spiritual formation. My spiritual director in the Seminary was a Jesuit as were many of my priest friends. My two nephews were educated in a school run by the Jesuits, and which has actually produced quite a few well-known people in Malta. Jesuits have provided many good priests, many of whom have dedicated their lives to work in the missions. We thank St Ignatius of Loyola, their founder, whose feast we celebrate today.
St. Ignatius was born in the family castle in Guipúzcoa, Spain, the youngest of 13 children, and was called Iñigo. When he was old enough, he became a page, and then a soldier of Spain to fight against the French. A cannon ball shattered his leg and subsequently, a series of bad operations ended his military career in 1521. While St. Ignatius recovered, he started reading the Bible and the lives of the saints, and decided to dedicate himself to becoming a soldier of the Catholic Faith.
Soon after he experienced visions, but a year later suffered a trial of fears and scruples, driving him almost to despair. Out of this experience he wrote his famous "Spiritual Exercises". After traveling and studying in different schools, he finished in Paris, where he received his degree at the age of 43. Many first hated St. Ignatius because of his humble lifestyle. Despite this, he attracted several followers at the university, including St. Francis Xavier, and soon started his order called The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.
He was a gifted spiritual director, and has been described by Pope Benedick XVI  as “being above all a man of God and a man of profound prayer who gave the first place of his life to God.” He was very active in fighting the Protestant Reformation and promoting the subsequent Counter-Reformation. St Ignatius died at the age of 65. He was canonized on March 12, 1622.  There are 38 members of the Society of Jesus who have been declared Saints. So many other Jesuits have become Cardinals, Bishops and great writers.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Photo I took in 1983 at Hyde Park, England

Every Sunday morning, I open the doors of the Cathedral very early in the morning, anytime between 2 AM and 3 AM. Since the Cathedral gets very hot in the afternoon, that’s the best time to let some cool air in, like having a free air-conditioner from God, being that we’re in a high elevation, at 3,500 feet. Well, yesterday I closed the doors at 6:45 AM, because I had to give a sunrise prayer service at the Relay for Life being held this weekend. The little extra time that I left the doors open, which I usually close by 5:30 AM, gave the opportunity for a sparrow to sneak into the Cathedral. He was flying around very discreetly towards the end of the morning Mass. In fact during the homily I had mentioned that God takes care of us, just as he takes care of the sparrows and lilies of the field. I guess this particular sparrow wanted to hear me mention them, and felt he had to represent his friends by his presence.
Of course he stayed here overnight, and this morning I went to check on him and found him hopping around the altar. Trying to capture him was impossible, but then he flew away towards the bell tower, and I was able to trap him in there. Then opening the doors, I was able, with a lot of patience, to guide him towards the doors, and bingo, off he flew, after a very holy night inside a beautiful Cathedral.
“Praise Him all ye birds of the sky, all ye sparrows and creatures that fly!”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Martha was right

Vincenzo do Campo - St Martha
We all remember that domestic scene in the Gospels when Jesus visits his friends Martha and Mary, who along with their brother Lazarus, were close friends to Jesus. We read how Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to listen to him talk, while Martha was busy with the household chores and duties of hospitality, which were very important in Middle Eastern culture. Eventually Jesus reprimanded Martha and praised Mary for choosing the better part. I always felt bad for Martha, because she was doing her duty as a host. As if she was trying to tell Jesus: “Let’s all fix some snacks together and then we can sit down and talk....”
Then I came across this painting by Vincenzo di Campo, and I’m sure you would agree with me....Martha was absolutely right! Look at all the food she had to prepare, foul, chicken, pheasants, lamb, fish, vegetables, and so much more. She had every right to complain and ask for her sister to help her out.
July 29 is the liturgical feast of St Martha, and even though we do not celebrate her feast today because it is a Sunday, it’s good to remember her and pray for all housewives, cooks 
and chefs, of whom she is the patron Saint.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

$20 worth of time

A man came home from work late again, tired and irritated, to find his 5 year old son
waiting for him at the door.  "Daddy, may I ask  you a question?"
"Yeah, sure, what is it?" replied the man.  "Daddy,  how much money do you make an hour?"
"That's none of your business!   What makes you ask such a thing?"  the man said angrily.
"I just wanna know.  Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?" pleaded the little boy.
"If you must know, I make $20.00 an hour."
"Oh," the little boy replied, head bowed.  Looking up, he said,  "Daddy, may I borrow $10.00 please?".
The father was furious.  "If the only reason you wanted to know how much money I make is just so you can borrow some to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you're being so selfish.  I work long hard hours everyday and don't have time for such childish games."

The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door.  The man sat down and started to get even madder about the little boy's questioning. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money? After an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think he may have been a little hard on his son.  Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that $10.00 and he really didn't ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy's room and opened the door.
"Are you asleep son?" he asked.  "No Daddy, I'm awake," replied the boy.
"I've been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier," said the man.
"It's been a long day and I took my aggravation out on you.   Here's that $10.00 you asked for." The little boy sat straight up, beaming.  "Oh, thank you Daddy!" he yelled.
Then, reaching under his pillow, he pulled out some more crumpled up bills. The man,
seeing that the boy already had money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, then looked up at the man. "Why did you want more money if you already had some?" the father grumbled.
"Because I didn't have enough, but now I do," the little boy replied.
"Daddy, I have $20.00 now.  Can I buy an hour of your time?"

Friday, July 27, 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Tower Bridge and Thames river with the Olympics Logo
This is the motto of the Olympics, meaning “Faster, Higher and Stronger.” As the London Olympic Games start today, we remember also the spirit of the Olympics, crystallized in the words of Pierre Rene de Coubertin, the father of modern Olympics, who said “The most important thing for the athletes is to participate, and not to win." The first modern Olympics were held in Greece in 1896, and they’ve been held ever since, with the exception of the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Games, because of World Wars. The 1980 Olympics held in Moscow were also boycotted by 65 nations because of the Cold War, while the Soviets boycotted the 1984 Games held in Los Angeles, USA.

Original soda can boxes display at local Albertson's Store

Here are some interesting trivia about the Olympics
- In the ancient Olympic Games, a flame would be ignited by the sun and then kept burning until the closing of the games. The flame first appeared in modern Olympics at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam and nowadays is still lit using a curved mirror and the sun.
- The last Olympic Games medals that were made entirely of gold were awarded in 1912.
- Women were first allowed to participate in the Olympic Games in 1900.
- During the opening ceremony, the procession of athletes is always led by the Greek team, followed by all the other teams in alphabetical order, with the last team being that of the hosting country.
- The five rings on the Olympic flag symbolize the five continents. However, three continents, Africa, South America and Antarctica – have never hosted the Olympic Games.
- The first Olympic Games to be televised were the Berlin games in 1936.
- At the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, the winners received a silver medal and an olive branch, and second placed athletes got a bronze medal. Third placed athletes received nothing.
- Although China frequently tops the medal winning charts, it only won its first medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, when Xu Haifeng won gold in the 50-metre pistol event.
- The youngest Olympian ever was Dimitrios Loundras, a 10-year-old Greek gymnast at the 1996 Athens Olympics. The oldest Olympian ever was 72-year-old Oscar Swahn, a Swedish shooter at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games.
- The London 2012 Olympic Village will be home to 10,500 athletes.
- At the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, the skeet shooting targets were real pigeons. Belgian sharpshooter Leon de Lunden won the gold medal with a perfect score of 300 birds.
- Until 1992, the Winter and Summer Olympics were held in the same year, but since then they alternate every two years. So the next Winter Games will be held in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, while the next Summer Games will be in Brazil in 2016.
- Malta has never won a medal, but they are hoping this year they will win the first ever medal, even if it is bronze. The athlete whom they are hoping to bring glory is William Chetcuti, a trap shooter, who is rated Number 5 in the world, and recently won the World Championship.   

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Saints Joachim and Anne

Saint Joachim and Saint Anne are the parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ and were privileged to be the grandparents of Jesus Christ. What we know about Mary's parents come from the Gospel of James. It is not part of the Bible, but the document, which was written around 170 AD gives insight into the life of Mary and her parents. Joachim was a prominent and respected man, and is described as a rich and pious man of the house of David who regularly gave to the poor. However, as his wife was barren, the high priest rejected Joachim and his sacrifice, as his wife's childlessness was interpreted as a sign of divine displeasure. Joachim consequently withdrew to the desert where he fasted and did penance for forty days.
Angels then appeared to both Joachim and Anne to promise them a child. Joachim later returned to Jerusalem and embraced Anne at the city gate, a traditional meeting that is frequently painted and reproduced in art. In an answer to his prayers, he and Anne, his wife, were given the daughter Mary, who was conceived without sin, a virtue we remember also on December 8, her Immaculate Conception. Their prayers were answered greater than they could have ever imagined!
Joachim and Anne embracing each other at the gate.
There is a great Shrine to St. Anne in Canada which is a site of constant miracles. Cripples have entered the Shrine on crutches and left by walking through the door as they were completely healed. Another Shrine is in Britanny, France. There is also a church of St. Anne in Jerusalem, and it’s believed to have been built on the location where Saints Joachim and Anne lived.
The feast of St Joachim and Anne was introduced to the liturgical celebration in 1584, for celebration on March 20, the day after the feast day of Saint Joseph. Early in the 20th century Pope Pius X transferred it to August 16, the day after the Assumption, so that Joachim may be remembered in the celebration of Mary's triumph. St Anne is the patron saint of barren women, grandparents; homemakers; housewives; pregnant women; women in labor; Brittany, France and Quebec, Canada; archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan; diocese of Norwich, Connecticut; New Mexico. St Joachim is also the patron of grandfathers and fathers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Feast of Saint James

James and his brother John left their boat and even their father behind, and followed Jesus.
The first thing James saw after he followed Jesus was his teaching with authority in the synagogue and the cure of Simon's mother-in-law. We all know that Jesus was the focus of James' life from then on, but it is also evident that James held a special place in Jesus' life. He was chosen by Jesus to be one of the 12, given the mission to proclaim the good news, and authority to heal and cast out demons. But even among the apostles he held a special place. When Jesus raised Jairus' daughter when all thought her dead, he only allowed James, John, and Peter to come with him. Even more important when he went up to the mountain to pray, he wanted James, John, and Peter to go with him. And it was there on the mountain they were privileged to witness what no one else had seen -- Jesus transfigured in his glory, speaking to Moses and Elijah. And with Simon Peter, James and John were the only ones of the apostles that Jesus gave a special name: Sons of Thunder.
It's no wonder then that James, along with John, felt that he had the right to go to Jesus and ask him to give them whatever they asked. When their mother asked Jesus to give them preferential treatment, they didn't see the cross in his future, but an earthly throne. But despite all these misunderstandings, it was still James, Peter, and John that Jesus chose to join him in prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane for his final prayer before his arrest. It must have hurt Jesus that the three of them fell asleep on this agonizing evening.
"Saint James" by Alonso Cano
James did drink of the cup Jesus drank of, all too shortly after the Resurrection. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that James was one of the first martyrs of the Church. King Herod Agrippa killed him with a sword in an early persecution of the Church. There is a story that the man who arrested James became a convert after hearing James speak at his trial and was executed with him. James is called James the Greater because another younger apostle was named James. St James evangelized in Spain before he died and the cult of St James in Santiago de Campostela is well known as people make a long pilgrimage to visit his Cathedral in northwest Spain.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We pray, and remember

Yet again, the eyes of the world have turned with shock to the suburbs of Denver, Colorado,  and another unspeakable loss of life. Thirteen years after two high-school students in the same metro area murdered 11 of their classmates and wounded over 20 others before killing themselves, a lone gunman's overnight rampage at an Aurora movie theater claimed 12 lives among 71 people shot during a midnight showing of the new Batman film, ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’
12 crosses, symbolizing the 12 lives lost in Aurora, Colorado
Let us pray for and remember the 12 victims who lost their lives:
Alex Sullivan, 27
Micayla Medek, 23
Jessica Ghawi, 24
Navy Petty Officer John Larimer, 27
Rebecca Wingo, 32
Matthew McQuinn, 27
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress, 29
Alexander Boik, 17
Alexander Teves, 24
Jonathan Blunk, 26
Gordon Cowdon, 51

Just 2 days earlier, Denver installed its new Archbishop, Samuel Aquila. He released the following statement:
“ We are shocked and saddened by this tragedy. Our hearts and prayers go out to those impacted by this evil act. In the chaos of the moment, people poured from the movie theater into the darkness of the night—the darkness of confusion, of ambiguity, of despair. We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters cast into that darkness. They do not stand alone. As Catholic bishops, we “weep with those who weep. But in Aurora, which means “the dawn,” the sun rose this morning. In a city whose name evokes the light, people of hope know that the darkness may be overcome. For those who were killed, our hope is the tender mercy of our God. “Neither death nor life,” reflected St. Paul, “can separate us from the love of God.” We commend their souls, and their families and friends, to God’s enduring love.  For those who were wounded - physically, emotionally and spiritually, our hope is in their recovery and renewal. To them we offer our prayers, our ears to listen, and our hearts to love. The road to recovery may be long, but in hope we are granted the gift of new life.  We hope also for the perpetrator of this terrible crime, and we pray for his conversion. Evil ruled his heart that night. Only Jesus Christ can overcome the darkness of such evil. We hope that all of us may find the peace which surpasses understanding.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

St Bridget of Sweden

Various images of St Bridget
Born on June 14, 1303 of a very devout family, Bridget’s mother died when she was only 10. She was raised with her siblings by her father and other aunts. As was customary during the Middle Ages, Birgitta was married when she was 13 years old to a young man, Ulf Gudmarsson with whom she had eight children, four daughters and four sons, all of them survived infancy, and that was very rare at that time.
The King of Sweden, Magnus Eriksson married a foreigner, and asked Birgitta to come and be Lady-in Waiting and to teach his new bride and young queen the language and customs of her new country. After her years of service at Court, Birgitta and Ulf made the long pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostela in Spain. On the return journey Ulf became ill but survived until early in the year 1344, when he was very ill again, and so Birgitta took him to the monks at Alvastra where he died and was buried. Birgitta remained in a little house near the abbey and she spent long hours in prayer by Ulf’s grave. She arranged her affairs among her children and various charities and prayed for guidance.

St Bridget handing the Rule of her order, the Brigittines
When she was 41 years old, in the abbey at Alvastra she felt God calling her to start a religious order, mainly for women. He said that the other orders had fallen into decay and this new order would be a vineyard whose wine would revivify the Church. She needed a monastery, chaplains and priests, besides 60 nuns to start the order. King Magnus donated a little palace and much land to the new monastery in Vadstena, but as soon she had begun altering the palace and organizing the work, Christ appeared to her and asked her to go to Rome. Birgitta left Sweden at the end of 1349 never to return, spending the Holy Year 1350 there.
Although she had longed to become a nun, she never even saw the monastery in Vadstena. It was not until 1370 that Pope Urban V confirmed the rule of her order, but meanwhile Birgitta had made herself universally beloved in Rome by her kindness and good works. Save for occasional pilgrimages, including one to Jerusalem, she remained in Rome until her death on July 23, 1373. She was originally buried at San Lorenzo in Panisperna before being moved to Sweden. She was canonized by 1391. Birgitta was the first women ever to found a religious order, known as the Brigittines.
The order spread swiftly throughout Europe with monasteries from Scandinavia throughout Europe, in particular Spain, Italy, Mexico and the USA. None of these foundations have brothers (except U.S.A. which has one male convent.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

England's week

Front page of a French newspaper honoring Bradley Wiggins
This is a historic week for England, and I thought of giving the British a tribute they deserve. The Olympic games start this week in England, and I'm sure the British are well prepared to host a magnificent spectacle. This weekend the British Open in Golf was played at Royal Lytham and St Anne's Golf course, with a British golfer, a South African, an Australian and two Americans in contention. (The South African Ernie Els eventually won.) But most of all, I salute today Bradley Wiggins, the first ever British cyclist to win the Tour de France in 99 years. In 1987, Ireland's Stephen Roche had won the only other title from the British Isles, but Wiggins is the first British to win. To make it even more special, another British cyclist, Chris Froome, from the same Sky Team came in second place. Another British cyclist, the sprinter Mark Cavendish won three stages, while yet another Brit, David Millar won another, making it a total of 7 stages won by the British cyclists, one third of all the stages!.

So today I say hail to the British. After all the British defended Malta during World War II and even gave us in 1942 the George Cross as the highest honor a country could receive, and which was then incorporated in the Maltese flag.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Secret

He has the secret for all of our happiness
One day, one friend asked another, ““How is it that you are always so happy? You have so much energy, and you never seem to get down.”
“With her eyes smiling, she said, ““I know the Secret!””
““What secret is that?””
To which she replied, “I’’ll tell you all about it, but you have to promise to share the Secret with others.”
The Secret is this: I have learned there is little I can do in my life that will make me truly happy. I must depend on God to make me happy and to meet my needs. When a need arises in my life, I have to trust God to supply according to HIS riches. I have learned most of the time I don’t need half of what I think I do. Since I learned that 'Secret’, I am happy. He has never let me down”
The questioner’s first thought was, “ That’’s too simple!” But upon reflecting over her own life she recalled how she thought a bigger house would make her happy, but it didn’t! She thought a better paying job would make her happy, but it hadn’t. She thought a luxurious car, a hefty bank account, a cruise on an ocean liner...., but nothing did make her better.
When did she realize her greatest happiness? Sitting on the floor with her grandchildren, playing games, praying with them, walking on the beach in bare feet with them, or reading a story, a simple gift from God.
Now you know it too! We can’t depend on people or objects to make us happy. Only GOD in His infinite wisdom can do that. Trust HIM! And now I pass the Secret on to you! So once you get it, what will you do?
YOU have to tell someone the Secret, too! That GOD in His wisdom will take care of YOU!

Friday, July 20, 2012

How the poor live

One day a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poor people can be. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.  On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"
"It was great, Dad."
"Did you see how poor people can be?" the father asked.
"Oh Yeah" said the son.
"So what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father proudly.
The son answered:
I saw that we have one dog and they had four.
We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. 
We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. 
Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. 
We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. 
We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. 
We buy our food, but they grow theirs. 
We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them."
With this the boy's father was speechless.
Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are."
Too many times we forget what we have and concentrate on what we don't have. 
What is one's persons worthless object is another's prize possession. It is all based on one's perspective.
It makes you wonder what would happen if we all gave thanks for all the bounty we have instead of worrying about wanting more.
Take joy in what you have and see the treasure in it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happy 90th Birthday

Bishop Thomas Connolly, the 4th Bishop of our Baker Diocese turns 90 years old today. Even though he is not in the best of health as he is living at Maryville Nursing Home in Beaverton, Oregon, nonetheless we pray for him on this special day as becomes a nonagenarian. Bishop Connolly was born in Tonopah, Nevada on July 19, 1922, and was ordained a priest in his hometown on April 8, 1947. He was actually the second priest of Tonopah that was ordained a bishop, as only two months earlier, a fellow priest and townsman William Johnson was ordained a Bishop of Orange, California. Connolly was consecrated Bishop at the Cathedral on June 30, 1971 with an overflow congregation that included the Governors of Nevada and Oregon, 4 Archbishops, 18 Bishops, 135 priests and more than 600 lay people and nuns.
Bishop Connolly preaching on his 60th anniversary

Bishop Connolly was much beloved here in Baker City and even though he moved the Chancery to bend in 1987, people have many wonderful memories of him, and he was always welcome whenever he visited here. His last major celebration in the Cathedral was in October 2007 when he celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest while on the same occasion he rededicated the Cathedral after the centennial renovation. We wish him the best of health, our prayers are with him and Ad Multos Annos!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Frogs

Two frogs fell into a bucket of cream. The sides of the bucket were shiny and steep, the cream was deep and cold. "Oh, what's the use?" said Frog Number One, "There’s no help around, and no hope for us. “Good-bye, my friend. Good-bye, cruel world." And weeping still, he drowned in the cream.
But Frog Number Two, made of sterner stuff, dog-paddled in surprise and defiance, and as he licked his creamy lips and blinked his creamy eyes, he thought  "I'll swim at least a while."
He kicked and kicked with his hind legs, trying to get out of the bucket. After an hour he found out that all his kicking had churned up a tub of butter underneath him. Happily he perched on top of the butter and hopped off to safety.

Moral of the story: never, ever give up, no matter how difficult the situation is around you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Marian prayer for the sick

'Pieta' by Emvin Cremona at Balzan church, Malta
Mary, health of the sick,
be at the bedside of all the world’s sick;
of those who are unconscious and dying;
of those who have begun their agony;
of those who have abandoned all hope of a cure;
of those who weep and cry out in pain;
of those cannot receive care because they have no money;
of those who ought to be resting but are forced by poverty to work;
of those pass long nights sleeplessly;
of those who seek vainly in their beds to find a better position;
of those who are tormented by the cares of a family in distress;
of those who suffer through painful cancer, dementia or Alzheimer's disease;
of those who must renounce their most cherished plans for the future;
of those, above all, who do not believe in a better life;
of those who rebel and curse God;
of those who do not know that Christ suffered like them and for them. Amen.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

St Simon Stock receiving the scapular

According to a pious tradition, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St Simon Stock at Cambridge, England on Sunday June 16, 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said to him:”Take, beloved son, this scapular of your order as a special sign of grace for all Carmelites; whoever dies with this scapular, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in danger, a pledge of peace.”

Carmelite Saints

The Carmelites are a religious order founded on Mount Carmel in the 13th century, named thus in reference to the mountain range found in the Holy Land. The founder was a certain Berthold, who was either a pilgrim or a crusader. The order was founded at the site that it claimed had once been the location of Elijah’s cave, 1700 feet above sea level.
By 2001, there were 2,100 religious monks in 25 provinces in the Carmelite order, besides 700 enclosed nuns in 70 monasteries. In addition, the Third Order of lay Carmelites count 28,000 members throughout the world. Besides St Simon Stock, there are other Carmelite saints such as St Therese of the Child Jesus, St John of the Cross, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St Theresa of Avila and even Sister Lucia of Fatima.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Heaven on earth

I share with you today one of the best photos I took during my recent visit to Rome. It was early in the morning, around 8:30AM when I took this photo of three beams of light coming through the windows of St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. I always arrived at my destination early enough before the deluge of tourists arrive later in the morning. This allowed for better photography and visiting the various landmarks without having to bump shoulders with other tourists.

The Basilica of St Peter's was a combination of various architects: Donata Bramante, Antonio de Sangallo the younger, Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, Giacomo della Porta, Carlo Maderno and Gianlorenzo Bernini. It is Renaissance and Baroque in style and it took 120 years to construct. The groundbreaking was on Aril 18, 1506, and it was completed on November 18, 1626. The main altar under the famous Bernini baldacchino is bathed with heavenly light, and as I titled this post, this is truly 'heaven on earth.'

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

Soon-to-be-saint, Kateri Tekakwitha
Today we commemorate Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks. She was the daughter of a Mohawk warrior and a Catholic Algonquin woman, born in 1656, in the Mohawk fortress of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York. I was privileged to visit her birthplace, which is also the place honoring a National Shrine of the French Jesuits who brought the faith to the East coast, the North American martyrs. After losing her family to a smallpox epidemic (but surviving it herself), she dragged her disease-ravaged body over a long and arduous trail to arrive at the St. Francis Xavier mission near Montreal. There, she took a vow of perpetual virginity and set about teaching prayers to children and helping the infirmed.
A collage of images of Blessed Kateri
As the adopted daughter of the chief, she was courted by many of the warriors looking for her hand in marriage. However, during this time she began taking interest in Christianity, which was taught to her by her mother. Kateri's clan then settled on the north side of the Mohawk River. While living here, at the age of 20 years old, Tekakwitha was converted and baptized on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676.
Understand that one facet of “medicine” held by these indigenous peoples roughly can be viewed as something unusual, extraordinary, out-of-place. Kateri, the Mohawk girl who set out to help others despite her scarred face and diminished eyesight, probably attracted quite a bit of attention at the mission. Those who were healthy probably recoiled a bit from her, perhaps in fear that she may still have the disease. Those with prejudices against the Native American people may have mistreated her, may have wondered what of value she might have to offer the mission and those who settled there. Yet, she was most likely a godsend to those people. After all of the smoke cleared, after generations of soldiers and hunters came and went, it was Kateri Tekakwitha who was constantly remembered as the one who gave prayers to the children and relief to the sick and aged.
Possibly the most authentic portrait of Kateri
She died on April 17, 1680 at the age of 24. It is said that on her deathbed, her last words were spoken in her native tongue, translating to “Jesus, I love you.” According to eyewitness accounts, Kateri's scars vanished at the time of her death revealing a woman of immense beauty. It has been claimed that at her funeral many of the ill who attended were healed on that day. She was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XII on January 3, 1943. She was later beatified on June 22, 1980 by Pope John Paul II. She will become the third American-born saint in October later this year, along with Blessed Marianne Cope, who will be the fourth American saint.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Again from 30 years ago

With me are Jimmy Rafferty, Michael O'Brien and Tommie Smith
As I shared with you two days ago, during my first two years in the USA I did not have a drivers license, and so I was on my bike a lot, as it was my only means of transportation, visiting people, going for communion calls, going to the stores and many other errands. During the summer, I also organized a few bike trips with some of our older altar-boys, of course after testing them to see how strong and determined they were to undertake a long bike trip. So during the summer of 1982, we biked all the way to Montauk Point, at the very end of Long Island, a 100 mile trip. We broke it up in two days. On the third day we were supposed to take it easy, relax a little and take the train back to New Hyde Park. However they would not let us take our bikes on the train, and Fr John Heinlein came to our rescue, borrowing a van to pick us up. The boys however combined the money they had reserved for the train ride and hired a small boat, enjoying a sailing trip across Montauk Point.
Tommie Smith, John Ryan, Michael O'Brien and Martin O'Brien

The following year, we decided to do a round trip, bike on the north shore and biking back on the south shore, over 200 miles in all, covering the stretch over 5 days, even staying with some friends and parishioners who had summer homes along the way. My biking years continued for another decade, but I realized it was much safer in a car, even though my fascination with biking has continued, especially by following the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia over the years.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wisdom from a 90 year old

One of my watercolors "Summer Reeds" 2011
This is something we should all read at least once a week! Make sure you read to the end!
This list was written by Regina Brett, 90 years old, of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio.
To celebrate growing older, she wrote the 45 lessons life taught her. Here they are:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

Another watercolor painting of mine "Country Spice view" 2009
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come .....
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Rule of Saint Benedict

First of all my gratitude to all the visitors of this blog. We have reached 10,000 hits - sometime today, the 10,000th hit will be recorded. Whoever it is, please let me know by a brief e-mail. In 6 months we had 10 thousand visitors. At this speed, we should hit 20,000 by the end of the year. Congratulations!
An 8th century copy of the Rule of St. Benedict

The feast of Saint Benedict, the founder of Monasticism is a very special day in the life of the church, as all Benedictines celebrate the life of their founder today. St Benedict devised his famous Rule, which is read by all his members, at times almost memorized. I am always fascinated by Chapter 4 of the Rule, which lists 61 tools for good works, all based on Scripture. Here they are, listed in order, which makes for a good meditation:
In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength. Then, one's neighbor as oneself. Then not to murder. Not to commit adultery. Not to steal. Not to covet. Not to bear false witness. To honor all. And not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ. To chastise the body. Not to become attached to pleasures. To love fasting. To relieve the poor. To clothe the naked. To visit the sick.
To bury the dead. To help in trouble. To console the sorrowing. To become a stranger to the world's ways. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ. Not to give way to anger. Not to nurse a grudge. Not to entertain deceit in one's heart. Not to give a false peace. Not to forsake charity.
St Benedict handing the Rule to his monks
Not to swear, for fear of perjuring oneself. To utter truth from heart and mouth. Not to return evil for evil. To do no wrong to anyone, and to bear patiently wrongs done to oneself. To love one's enemies. Not to curse those who curse us, but rather to bless them. To bear persecution for justice's sake. Not to be proud. Not addicted to wine. Not a great eater. Not drowsy. Not lazy. Not a grumbler. Not a detractor. To put one's hope in God. To attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good one sees in oneself.  But to recognize always that the evil is one's own doing, and to impute it to oneself. 
To fear the Day of Judgment. To be in dread of hell. To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit. To keep death daily before one's eyes. To keep constant guard over the actions of one's life. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere. When evil thoughts come into one's heart, to dash them against Christ immediately. And to manifest them to one's spiritual guardian. To guard one's tongue against evil and depraved speech. Not to love much talking. Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter. Not to love much or boisterous laughter. To listen willingly to holy reading.To devote oneself frequently to prayer.
Daily in one's prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one's past sins to God, and to amend them for the future. Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh; to hate one's own will. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot or Abbess even though they (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of the Lord's precept, "Do what they say, but not what they do." Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Flasback from 30 years ago

Eucharist at Saranac Lake, NY
This is a photo I took 30 years ago at Saranac Lake in Upstate New York. With my priest friend and pastor Fr John Heinlein, I used to go for a week in the Adirondacks, and while I did mostly biking, swimming and taking photos, he would be doing a lot of waterskiing, besides the driving. The following two years, when I eventually got my drivers license, I did some of the driving too, and one year I went by myself with his father Joe, driving even into Canada. Of course we always celebrated Mass for the guests who were at the Marlboro Club with us, and I took this photo just before we started to say Mass.

Fluting by Julian's Island

Now on the lake there were a few islands that were named, but a few smaller ones had no name, and so I decided to name one of them 'Julian’s Island.' Nobody complained or objected and I believe it still is known as Julian’s Island. If you enlarge the photo with the chalice, you can see this little island just below the branch that extends from the tree on the right. On the second photo with me playing the flute, Julian’s Island is clearly visible just above my left hand. I did a lot of biking those days, all the way to Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Olympics, Tupper lake, as well as around Upper and Lower Saranac lakes. If you want see the exact location, go to Google Earth and you can find the island at 44° 20' 15. 76" North  and  74 ° 19' 10. 40" West. The lake is at an elevation of 1580 feet above sea level. Just below Julian’s Island you can see Dry island, and in the same area there is also Goose island and Green island. Those were the days!

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Prayer of Forgiveness

At the Infirmary Chapel, St Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts

I share with you this prayer I came across recently in my reading. It was actually in a book I had for a long time, but that’s the way it is sometimes - the gems we should reflect on are usually hidden somewhere in our bookshelf, until we discover them, sometimes by chance.
- You asked for my hands that you might use them for your purposes. I gave them for a moment; then withdrew them, for the work was hard.
- You asked for my mouth to speak against injustice. I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.
- You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty. I closed them, for I did not want to see.
- You asked for my life that you might work through me. I gave you a small part that I might not “get involved.”
- Lord, forgive me for calculated efforts to serve you only when it is convenient for me to do so, only in those places where it is safe to do so, and only with those who make it easy to do so.
- Father, forgive me, renew me, send me out as a usable instrument, that I may take seriously the meaning of the Cross.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

More photos from Rome

Polyptych on the last days of Christ

One of the best Museums in Rome is the Barberini Museum, The Barberini are a family of the Italian nobility that rose to prominence in 17th century Rome. Their influence peaked with the election of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to the papal throne in 1623, as Pope Urban VIII. Their urban palace, the Palazzo Barberini, (completed in 1633 by Bernini), today houses Italy's Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica (National Gallery of Ancient Art,) also known simply as the Barberini Museum. 
Another Polyptych from the life of Christ
The photos attached here are only three of many beauty paintings, known as polyptychs. The last one is a triple panel known as tryptych. Each panel tells a story, and they served as visual aids for people to learn about the life of Christ or any other story from the Bible.
Tryptych of the Madonna

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A further glimpse into Rome - part 2

The map of Malta as seen from Rome, by Ignazio Danti

Continuing my tour of Rome, today I introduce you to one of the most fascinating section of the Vatican Museum. The Gallery of Maps (Italian: Galleria delle carte geografiche) is a gallery located on the west side of the Belvedere Courtyard in the Vatican containing a series of painted topographical maps of Italy based on drawings by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti from Perugia. The galley was commissioned in 1580 by Pope Gregory XIII as part of other artistic works commissioned by the Pope to decorate the Vatican. It took Danti three years (1580–1583) to complete the 40 panels of the 120 meters long gallery. It remains the world's largest pictorial geographical study.

The capital city of Malta, Valletta, depicted in incredible detail
Among the panels is one dedicated to the island of Malta, including intricate detail of the Great Siege which took place in 1565 between the Ottamon Empire and the Maltese. Thanks to the Knights of Malta, who built strong fortifications around the island, we beat the heck out of the Turks! 
The Great Siege of Malta - 1565, as depicted by Ignazio Danti
Since the Great Siege took place only 15 years prior to the project, Danti was able to depict fascinating details of the actual battle, as you can see from these photos I took during my recent visit to the Vatican Museums.